Performers unpack talent for SuitCase Dances

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WALLA WALLA — Charles Smith Wines tasting room will soon see a performance that doesn’t usually step into the private venues of downtown businesses.

On April 27, SuitCase Dances will feature several modern dance performances that incorporate a number of theatrical and poetic elements.

But what the dances won’t be are the standard community theater performances where the music starts, the dancing begins, someone sings, the dancing and music end and everyone claps.

“We are trying to change people’s perceptions here and trying to get them out of the recital format,” professional dancer and choreographer Vicki Lloid said.

Modern dance — in this case the type of freeform dancing that’s become popular and is still strongly associated with the 1960s and 1970s — is what will be performed at the winery tasting room, 35 S. Spokane St.

Usually, such cutting-edge contemporary dance performances are normally viewed on college campuses or in private venues in larger cities. In Walla Walla, SuitCase Dances will prove quite a change from the regular music scene of blues, rock and jazz.

“Mainly, what I am trying to do here is bring in events that haven’t been done here, let alone in the greater Walla Walla area,” event coordinator Emily Riley said. “I think it is going to be bizarre and totally eccentric and a really good time. And definitely something different.”

As different as it may be, there will be some familiar elements.

“It is more theatrical. It is more accessible,” Lloid said, noting that the production will include acting, singing, poetry and even a somewhat comical routine that will include cross-dressing.

SuitCase Dances will also feature a 34-year-old professional modern dancer who spent the first half of his life in Walla Walla.

“I left Walla Walla when I was 17 and now I am back where I started,” Peter de Grasse said. And he was literally referring to the very studio in the top floor of the old Temple Bookstore building at 40 S. Colville St., where he practiced with Lloid and several other dancers on a Sunday morning.

De Grasse left Walla Walla as a teen to study theater dance in New York City. His studies and career eventually moved into the area of modern dance, where he has worked with professional European dance companies.

This academic year, however, de Grasse is a guest dance instructor at Whitman College. It was a chance to visit his hometown and do some dancing.

“I think modern dance is a thing that is challenging to appreciate because there is no automatic image to approach,” de Grasse said. But he also noted that SuitCase Dances will incorporate some theatrical elements.

In additional to featuring performances by de Grasse and Lloid, SuitCase Dances will also give the audience a preview of work commissioned for the Raymond Carver Festival this May in Port Angeles, Wash.

The performances will include a number of Carver’s poems, which will be read aloud and danced to in a choreography created by Lloid.

The dances are poignant, graceful, scarce on props, big on movement and accompanied by the musical compositions of Kristin Vining.

Even those that might not think they are fans of modern dance would enjoy SuitCase Dances and may end up asking for more.

“I am really hoping that will happen. Then we can do more of this. And that is what Peter and I are hoping,” Lloid said.

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